California Rain Turns to Gold at National Conference on Education

A steady rain and unseasonably cold temperatures in Los Angeles did not put a damper on the 2019 National Conference on Education.

Off in the distance from our hotel, one could spot the infamous Hollywood sign perched on the Santa Monica Mountains. They say Hollywood is where the stars are. As far as I was concerned, the only stars that mattered were the 2,000 superintendents and other administrators who joined us in the City of Angels to celebrate excellence in school system leadership.

Congratulations to Curtis Jones, superintendent of Georgia’s Bibb County Schools for being named the 2019 National Superintendent of the Year®. Here’s a man who spent the first 20 years of his professional life serving in the U.S. Army and now is dedicated to providing the highest quality education to the students he serves.

Let me also congratulate Wanda Cook-Robinson, superintendent of Michigan’s Oakland Schools, and Marie Izquierdo, chief academic officer for Miami-Dade Schools, for winning top honors in our Women in School Leadership Awards.

Congratulations as well to the 2019 recipients of our annual Dr. Effie H. Jones Award, a recognition of school leaders who have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of equity and the advancement of women in education. Honorees included Wanda Cook-Robinson; Traci Davis, superintendent of Washoe County School District in Nevada; and Karl Hertz, past president of AASA and retired superintendent of Mequon-Thiensville School District in Wisconsin.

It wasn’t too long ago when our national conference convened over the course of three days. Today, with the expansion of our leadership services, our annual gathering, from beginning to end, stretches for about a week.

A few short years ago, we offered just two leadership cohorts. Today, that number has swelled to more than 35, mobilizing more than 2,000 superintendents as well as those aspiring to become superintendents. Participation spans all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

We were thrilled to recognize the outstanding educators who successfully completed the National Superintendent Certification Program®, Aspiring Superintendent Academy® and the Urban Superintendents Academy®. At a time when public education continues to be put under the microscope, I am so pleased that dozens of men and women who wish to grow their professional careers on behalf of students in their respective communities were honored for completing our rigorous professional development programs.

The award winners and program participants are all champions for children. They are leaders who matter. They are ambassadors of our campaign, showcasing exemplary leadership. I am proud of each and every one of them.

I thank our three General Session speakers—former U.S. National Security Advisor and Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice; Bill Daggett, the founder and chairman of the International Center for Leadership in Education; and former Major League Baseball pitcher Jim Abbott. We owe each of them a debt of gratitude for joining us.

A final thank you to all the public education leaders who made the journey to Los Angeles for our special event. We hope you enjoyed the conference as much as I did. The AASA family looks forward to seeing you in San Diego for the 2020 National Conference on Education.

For wall-to-wall coverage of AASA’s 2019 national conference, visit Conference Daily Online.  

Dan Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.

Giving Thanks … in More Than 13,000 Ways

As families coast to coast are celebrating this blessed Thanksgiving holiday, I am so proud of the more than 13,000 school district leaders who are working diligently to enhance the lives of our young learners.

Thank you for the powerful contributions you are creating and providing on behalf of the future leaders of society.

Thank you for serving as a voice for our public schools, the real lifeblood of our democracy.

Thank you for being champions for children.

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Back-to-School: Start Spreading the News

As long as I’ve been working in public education, this time of year has always been very special. On behalf of the entire AASA family, we hope our superintendents and those aspiring to become superintendents have a fantastic school year filled with the creation of positive solutions that will translate into greater academic outcomes for our students.

I’ve been saying for years that superintendents are the nation’s foremost thought leaders in public education. Last week, our school system leaders spoke out about some very critical issues that directly affect the lives of our students. We need to listen to what was said and do something about it.

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AASA President: Huge ‘Gaines’ for Public Education

July is always a special time for AASA. Hundreds of superintendents across the country—some of the sharpest minds in public education—gathered in the nation’s capital last week to discuss some of the most critical issues in public education as part of our annual Legislative Advocacy Conference.

The meeting marked three days of invaluable conversation focusing on such hot-button issues as school safety, appropriations, career and technical education, the Higher Education Act, teacher shortages, IDEA and Medicaid. AASA members—individuals I often refer to as “champions for children”—made their voices heard by visiting members of Congress from their respective districts and states to share opinions on these important matters.

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Brown v. Board and a New Generation

As we continue to observe this month’s 64th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that struck down segregation in public schools, we must be mindful that much work still needs to be done on behalf of the millions of children growing and learning in our classrooms.

To quote Chief Justice Warren:

“In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he (or she) is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”

I couldn’t agree more.

We are now at a time when our schools are being torn apart by gun violence. We’re at a time when more than 50 percent of the children attending our schools are living in impoverished conditions. We’re at a time when we must scale up the dialogue in our country that we view every public school as the foundation of our communities.

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Nashville: A Community of Leaders

AASA’s National Conference on Education officially kicks off this week and I am pleased to report that the 2018 edition will be our largest convening in more than 10 years. This tells me that more and more superintendents and other public school administrators across the country are eager to learn from one another, trade strategies, and discuss what is working on behalf of the more than 50 million students who are attending our public schools.

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A Look at Two Prominent Private Schools in Scotland

A guest post by AASA President Gail Pletnick

[Pictured from left to right: AASA Past President Amy Sichel; AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech; and AASA President Gail Pletnick.]

Just as in the U.S., there are both government sponsored and private school options available in Scotland. After visiting government funded schools, we had an invitation to tour some private institutions.

The Mary Erskine School (for girls) and Stewart’s Melville College (for boys) are schools within the Erskine Stewart’s Melville Schools (ESMS) private system. These schools are single sex from ages 12-18. The schools offer day school, week boarding or full-time boarding. Tuition for the day school is approximately $14,000 and full-time tuition and boarding fees are approximately $26,000. Other services are available for additional fees, including coach transportation to the school and travel experiences.

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A Look at Personalized Learning in Scotland

A guest post by AASA President Gail Pletnick

[Pictured from left to right: AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech; AASA Past President Amy Sichel; Dochgarroch Primary School Head Teacher and Principal Sandra MacLennan; and AASA President Gail Pletnick.]

A visit to Dochgarroch Primary School in Inverness, Scotland was a true lesson in personalizing learning. Sandra MacLennan, the head teacher and principal, arranged an extraordinary visit that included a tour of the entire facility and visits to a music class, preschool and regular classroom.

During the music class, we were treated to children performing piano, violin, trumpet and chanter solos. We learned that the chanter was the “training” instrument for bagpipes. That was followed by children sharing traditional Scottish songs and dance. The students were kind enough to give their American visitors a dancing lesson. I am not certain one lesson was enough. In the regular classrooms, we saw children typing in Braille, others on a computer doing a lesson, a story time and a pre-school class having snack.

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Doing the Best with What You Have

(L-to-R) AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech, Principal Louis Rojas and AASA President Alton Frailey.

(L-to-R) AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech, Principal Louis Rojas and AASA President Alton Frailey.

Costa Rica – Louis Rojas is the principal of the San Rafael School, a small facility serving 114 students. Louis reports directly to a district supervisor that is similar to the district superintendent in the U.S.

Similar to the other schools we have visited, San Rafael educates preschoolers ages 4-5, kindergarten for 6-year-olds and the primary education grades 1-6. From there, students will attend “college,” the equivalent of high school for our students.

Uniforms are required in all schools as to eliminate economic differences. Their “college” is a six-year program where the first three years focus on general education while the last three require students to focus on either academic or technical tracks. They will graduate with a “bachelor’s” degree that grants them access to the public and private universities in the country.

Similar to the U.S., poverty is also a major factor. Forty-two percent of preschool children live in homes where parents have less than six years of schooling and more than 60 percent live in poverty. All of the schools we visited were lacking the resources that the principals regarded as necessary to meet the needs of the students.

Nevertheless, there is an overwhelming commitment to educate all children supported by administrators and teachers who do the best they can with what they have.

Dan is blogging throughout the AASA International Seminar, which is taking place in Costa Rica.

AASA Leadership Visits Costa Rica

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AASA President Alton Frailey with students in Alajuela, Costa Rica.

Alajuela, Costa Rica – In 1869, Costa Rica made education both free and mandatory for all its citizens. Lore has it that the country was experiencing economic hard times and could not afford to maintain both an army and a public education system. They chose education and today Costa Rica is one of the few countries in the world without a standing army. They even boast of having more teachers than police officers.

We visited the Carrizal elementary school in the mountain town of Alajuela. The school of 600 accommodates pre-school through grade six as well as special education students who attend one of two five hour shifts, a morning and afternoon session. Teachers are only allowed to teach one shift.

Based on achievement, the school is level 4, with level 5 being the highest performing schools. The school year runs 200 days from mid-February to mid-December. Class size averages about 32 students per class.

Instruction is very traditional with students in desks facing the blackboard in the front of the room where the teacher delivers the lesson. Even so, Costa Rica boasts a 95 percent literacy rate among residents age 15 and older.

Alajuela is a coffee bean growing region surrounded by dense foliage and beautiful streams. It typifies the tranquility that Costa Rica is so famous for.

The children are happy to see us and look forward to practicing their mandatory English language skills with us. To a resounding cheer, I tell them that they are doing so well that I might take them all back to the U.S. with me.